Half-Life 2 Mod: Week 10 — Why Hammer Isn't Good for Fiddly Details or, The Mystery Room Revealed

Half-Life 2 Mod: Week 10 — Why Hammer Isn’t Good for Fiddly Details or, The Mystery Room Revealed (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

These last few weeks were a bit crazy, so I fell a bit behind in my Half Life 2 modding. Instead, I spent some time working on two different conference proposals that deal with interactive fiction. Oh, and there’s the end-of-term rush of students who suddenly want to learn.

Anyway, I’ve been coyly staying away from what’s behind these doors.


In the Cloak of Darkness specification that I’m using (not particularly rigidly) to guide my modding exploration, there’s supposed to be a bar to the south of the lobby. The specification doesn’t say what the bar looks like, so I figured… what the heck.


Valve’s Hammer world editor is actually not the right tool to use in order to create objects with this level of detail. Hammer is no good at curves, or at measurements of less than one inch. There are so many points and lines that make up the bridge consoles, that the tiniest distortion means the edges don’t line up.

I spent over a week fixing every single joint and line in the bridge, working from one area and going around clockwise. After several days, I thought I was going crazy, because vertices that I would have sworn I had fixed were suddenly becoming disjointed again.

It turns out that when I made subtle changes in the locations of the vertices, for the rest of that editing session the changes would stick, but when I exited the editor and loaded the file again, the vertices would jump back to where they had been before. If I moved them around significantly, or added a new object, those changes would remain, so I knew it wasn’t a problem with simply forgetting to save my work.

Anyway, I wasted nearly a week with that. That’s when I realized that, if I wanted to do any kind of detail work, I had to shift over to a 3D modeling tool. Such a tool can create a complex object that can be imported into the Hammer editor. People and detailed props such as weapons or vehicles are created in that manner, while doors, walls, floors, and other simple surfaces are created in the world editor. The captain’s chair and the railings look pretty good, since they’re all composed of straight lines. But the bridge console chairs and the consoles themselves, which have curves and complex angles, simply weren’t working.

Well, I learned something.

When you actually play this game, there’s a pulsing red alert light. You can see some of that red in this picture.


I’ll probably do something to make it look more like a bar when I get back to working on Cloak of Darkness, but for now my work on the bridge is done. If I ever get to the point where I can create orignal Star Trek NPCs, maybe I’ll return to this set. But for now, I’m shifting my attention to the 3D modeling tools, just so I can have some experience creating some softer, curved objects.

That’s because the Cloak of Darkness specification requires a cloak, and while I don’t think I’m going to be able to make a fully realistic 3D cloth object that drapes over whatever you place it on, at the very least I’ve got to make a cloak hanging on a hook. I’m a little intimidated by that, and tempted to switch to Inform 7 (text adventure) design for a little while, but we’ll see what happens.